“The next stop is Sannomiya-Hanadokeimae (三宮・花時計前駅) Station“. The soft, peaceful, announcement plays from the subway speaker above me as I almost drop my phone frantically checking google maps making sure I’m at the right station…
As I leap off the subway I look around, noticing I have arrived at Kobe city center. Tall buildings, well-dressed citizens, and vending machines at every corner of my peripheral vision. Wow, I am blown away. Instantly I’m impressed by the organization, architecture, and greenery that surrounds this metropolitan city. As the 25-degree Celsius sun peers above me, I take shelter in a nearby convenience store to stock up on rice balls (おにぎり) and (UCC) milk coffee.
As I stroll along one of the major streets called Flower Rd, I begin my 10-minute walk toward my internship office building. I can’t help but notice at almost every block there is a bright-colored, and option-abundant vending machine.
According to locals, this nice sunny weather won’t last long, but during this first week, it welcomed me nicely. Sure, here and there I saw some showers but for the most part, it was nothing but sunshine. Luckily for me, that meant the rest of my walk toward the office would be a breeze. Upon arriving at KIITO CAFE, a shared office space for creatives and organizations, I meet my boss, Kendra. He was kind enough to take a photo of me here as I told him I’d be writing in my CAPI blog from time to time.
Kendra not only gave me a warm introduction to the office but also took me out for lunch on my first day! Together we took our lunch break walking just 5 minutes to a restaurant where working office people dine out when they get hungry. This lunch set was filled with a variety of udon noodles, seasoned rice, assorted tempura, Japanese pickles, and miso soup. I had quite the feast in front of me, to say the least. The only challenge was staying awake the rest of the afternoon following lunch!
This first week was one of the best weeks of my life. Period. Filled with long hours of hard work, delicious food, and a completely new environment, I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. Following the workday I found myself pursuing my hobbies. Now things were a lot different here as I didn’t have access to my usual CARSA gym membership, or local Douglas Mountain to hike so I had to get creative. To my surprise, just a 15-minute walk from the office was a driving range where I could practice my golf swing, and a public fitness gym to get my workouts in.
Though it may seem from the pictures it was a completely smooth first week, in reality, there were tough times while moving to a completely new place. The challenging workdays, feelings of isolation, and language barriers have made settling in not an easy task. It’s going to take a while to feel fully grounded in a completely new country like Japan. However, by overcoming these challenges I am confident I will learn new skills and things about myself that will carry forward for many years to come. I am extremely grateful for the efforts of the individuals who allowed me to participate in an internship like this, and I cannot wait to take you along on the journey.
“Seek Discomfort”Yes theory
“Now there are a few room options you can choose from, Kai,” said my employer as we continued one of the longest-lasting email chains in my inbox. There were several Western-style rooms available that came with a single bed frame, dresser, standard desk, and chair just like in Victoria. However, Kendra recommended I take room 204 on the second floor called a tatami room, or washitsu (和室). I can’t lie, I was hesitant at first. Did I really want to be sleeping on the floor? (was my initial thought). There is no desk, couch, or even a bed frame! I couldn’t understand why he would recommend this room.
It was at this moment, I reflected. I thought back to my cultural intelligence, adaptation, and acceptance lectures throughout my coursework/pre-departure training and said no, I’m not going to stay in my comfort zone, I am going to believe in my employer’s recommendation and select the washitsu.
Little to say I ended up having one of the most peaceful nights of sleep in my life. The soft, natural light from the sun shimmered through the thin white paper blinds as a slowly grew awake. No need for a noisy alarm clock or violent vibration, I had woken to what felt like a time capsule in a traditional Japanese bedroom. Following my slumber were my new roommates ready to greet me.
In Kobe, several housing agencies offer accommodation in the form of communal share houses. The one suggested by my employer was Machiake which has about nine different share house locations. The website has English translations with photos, descriptions, and availabilities. In my current house, we have a 50/50 split of international people from the USA, France, Canada, and Japanese people. In total, the house can occupy up to 10 residents but currently only has 6 right now. Below is a photo of my share house called Mare which has two floors.
The people who live in the share house can vary greatly, and my descriptions are based only on my experience. Given that, I couldn’t have been more fortunate to land such great roomies. On my first Friday in the share house my new friends took me out for Yakiniku (焼肉) or Japanese BBQ. This was just the experience I was looking for.
Following that week, I had a traditional Japanese experience that was unlike anything I had ever done in my life. I knew I had some bucket list experiences I wanted to try before coming to Japan, and one of them being going a natural hot-spring, or Onsen (温泉). Now this is no ordinary bathing experience, this is a natural hot-spring from mother earth, not some man-made hot tub generated heat. This means that the water can be extremely hot, and mineral rich, making for some of the most intimate bathing experiences of your life. Oh, and did I mention, its required that those go to traditional Japanese Onsens are asked to go naked. Yes, completely butt-naked. In Vancouver, where I was born this sort of thing just doesn’t exist, and would seem pretty dang uncomfortable with a bunch of strangers. Before I explain what this experience was like, let’s clarify some things.
Firstly, the genders are separated, this means that there are separate bathing areas for men, and women. Secondly, there are small towels that you can optionally place around your gentiles if you so choose to. Lastly, there are usually more than one hot-spring bath which have several sizes. This means there isn’t just one communal hot-tub where many naked men or women are crammed into, there are usual a few pools with varying size so you have can have some privacy.
Now that we’ve cleared that off the table, here is what my Onsen experience was like. I told my employer last week that I wanted to try a traditional Onsen, so he recommended an place in the mountains above Kobe called, Arima Onsen.
Here, you can find many resorts, hotels, shops, and bath-houses that offer natural hot-springs. The price varies depending on the level of privacy, and luxury you desire (like any spa), however my friends and I decided to choose a medium-ranged budget of around $35 Canadian Dollars. The specific place we went to was a resort called Arima Kirari 太閤の湯. I couldn’t recommend this place more, only around a 10 minute walk from the main station (which most are) is where the hot-springs are located, as you enter you greeted with the smell of natural hot-springs and spa-like aroma. Included in your ticket is the rental of a traditional Japanese Kimono which you can choose up to 4 colors. Here is a photo of my new friends in our Kimonos.
After getting undressed, we headed to the many baths available and had one of the most relaxing hot-spring experiences ever. I can’t lie, its a weird feeling being completely nude at the start but you get used to it. This place had both an inside hot spring area with about 6 different pools, and a partially uncovered upstairs area with about 6 more pools. The day we went was slightly drizzling which made the hot water that much more refreshing. After a few hours we headed to their cafeteria area which was conveniently located in the spa complex meaning you could grab a bite, and head back to the baths if you so choose. By around 6 o’clock, we headed back home on the train for one of the most scenic routes home nestled in the Kobe mountains. An experience I am truly grateful for.
“The Time has Come”Mom
So far I’ve painted a pretty beautiful picture of Japan. Delicious food, awesome people, and relaxing hot springs. Yet just last week, I had one of the worst days of my life. At 7:55 am I woke up to a call from my mom. This was pretty typical because, with the time change the early morning is a good time to call from Nanaimo. She said, “The Time has Come”, I stood confused, “Oh, did you book the plane ticket?” I asked as I thought she had decided to buy the flight to visit me. “No”, she said, “I got a call this morning saying that your grandmother has passed away”.
I was stunned and didn’t know how to react. Tears just started pouring down my face as I cried in disbelief. (Writing this section right now is making me feel emotional). Now, the reason I am sharing this is not because I desire condolences, or want you to feel sorry for me, but simply to show that living abroad is challenging, and comes with sacrifice. On what must feel like the most terrible day of her life, I don’t have the opportunity to hug my mom and comfort her in this critical time. That is sacrifice. Experiencing new cultures is beautiful, and living in other parts of the world is something everyone should get to experience, but be ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
My grandma passed on May 23rd, 2023. She lived to the ripe age of 93, and I know she had lived a fulfilling, and beautiful life. Being her only grandson, Obachan (the Japanese word for grandmother) was an important person to me and was one of the inspirations for deciding to move to Japan in the first place. Being born in Nagoya, Japan, she was the one who introduced Japanese culture into my life, and helped me feel accepted when I felt different because of my background. She was truly happy for me when I moved to Japan, and I know she is here right now watching over me. Obachan didn’t speak fluent English, so most of the time we had to get by talking in a mix of Japanese and google translate. Yet somehow that didn’t stop us from having lunch at White Spot once a month for the past few years. My dream was always to talk to her fluently in Japanese, ask about her life story, her childhood, and what life is like in her shoes. For the first time in 10 years I took my first Japanese class last week, and I know my Obachan is proud of me.
I recommend any future intern coming to Japan to take these classes. They are hosted by the KICC, a community program aimed at helping new Japanese speakers. I take classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after work from 6:30 to 8:20, all completely free. Below I’ve included some photos of the classroom environment, learning modules, and the flyer I used to originally sign up. If you are interested in the specific class I took, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to reach the coordinator who signed me up.
This class has become meaningful in so many different ways for me, though most of all, it’s helping me adapt to life in Japan. It’s helping me overcome the current challenges I am facing and I know it can help you to if you so choose to participate in it.
This is where I’ll end my second blog, I’m not sure who will read this far but if you do, you know a little insight on my life so far in Japan. If you have any questions, or curious to follow along, I’ll leave my Instagram, and YouTube, for you to reach out. Thank you for reading the First Month of an Intern in Kobe, Japan.